Who is My Neighbor? They are
On Sunday August 15th, two Muslim Afghan women walked into Grace Community Church in the middle of worship. As they walked about halfway into the sanctuary, we made eye contact. The look on their faces was of hopelessness. They were distraught and tearful. I eventually recognized them. One was a former ESL student with Gateway of Grace Ministries. The other was a woman we had helped about three years ago. The women came to ask for prayers for their families and Afghanistan. So, Grace Community members and I prayed with them and for them. It was such a special moment in the life of our congregation – Persecuted Iranian Christians praying over two beautiful Muslim Afghan women. Since that Sunday, they have continued to join us.
When I arrived home that Sunday evening, I turned on the television news and saw Afghans with fear on their faces and looks of desperation as they flooded the Kabul Airport tarmac. The Taliban had taken complete control of Afghanistan.
While I have dealt with more than my share of distress, confusion and loss as a refugee, these images were too much and too familiar. Then I thought of the three young children of one of the women who had joined our service earlier. She had returned her children to her husband in Afghanistan about a year ago so she could work to provide for the family. This woman was an engineer in Afghanistan and had worked with the U.S. military. When the Taliban discovered she was working with Americans, her life quickly unraveled. To stay meant her life was in danger.
Her engineering degree did not transfer to the U.S., so she took the only job available, working at a meat processing plant. While she was grateful for the job, the pay was simply not enough to provide for herself and three children who also needed childcare. So, she made a decision that seemed like her only option. She sent her young children back to Afghanistan so that she could work all the hours possible to provide for her family from afar. I simply can’t imagine her pain, and possibly guilt, of being separated from her three small children. And none of us can imagine our children being 7500 miles away in a country that has experienced war and religious conflict for decades.
This is just one of many heartbreaking stories from refugees I have heard in the past several weeks. With all the work we were doing and preparing for, we knew this called for God’s supernatural strength and intervention. So, Gateway of Grace organized a prayer vigil which was led by our Bishop, George Sumner. People from around the country joined the Zoom event. And prayers were offered in three languages. Bishop Sumner’s homily from Lamentations 1 brought a clear perspective of our times, comforted us with a reminder of God’s faithfulness, and challenged us to faithful service in these difficult times.
I don’t mind sharing that the last few weeks have amounted to a rollercoaster of emotions as I have practically lived on the phone. My calls are between talking with Afghan refugee friends and hearing one desperate appeal after another to help get their loved ones out of Afghanistan to calls from friends near and far asking, “How can I help?” Thankfully, those encouraging calls from you have come at just the right moments.
As of this letter, I have translated and put together documents for more than sixty Afghans and contacted offices of elected officials to get any help they can offer.
Against the backdrop of desperation at Kabul Airport, we did experience the goodness of God when a few of our ESL students who were in Afghanistan to see ailing parents were able to return to the U.S. And the three young children of our engineer mother and wife are now out of Afghanistan! While they have not yet been reunited, at least her children are out of harm’s way.
Another display of God’s goodness came when generous friends of Gateway of Grace provided flights for fifteen Afghans from Dulles to DFW Airport! This unexpected blessing and so many like it remind me of God’s love for refugees and what he will do through Gateway of Grace to express it.
As part of the ministry’s emotional support for our families, Grace Community Church held a time of community mourning for Afghan and Iranian refugees, a historical practice within both sister cultures.
Meanwhile, Gateway of Grace continues to assess needs as families arrive. Since we are meeting them within a few days after arrival, most need basically everything. So, we are furnishing apartments, providing housewares, kitchenware, diapers and of course assistance in connecting them with various government offices to get the proper documents to work. All of it connects with Gateway of Grace’s ministry philosophy which is to meet the practical, emotional, and spiritual needs of refugees. And we do that by design through you – the Church.
Although the horrific conditions for Afghan refugees grip our attention today, their plight will move down and eventually out of the daily news cycle. It’s just the way news reporting works. But the harsh reality is their struggles will be far from over. While they won’t be hiding from the Taliban, they will experience different struggles in their new country, unlike any society they have ever known. They will need to find a job that can support a family, enroll their kids in school, begin to deal with their trauma and PTSD, and learn to live in a new country without the support of extended family. And yes, they will need to do all of this AND make time to learn the English language so they can eventually move from surviving to thriving.
Afghan refugees, as well as refugees from other parts of the world, will still come long after their plight is no longer newsworthy. And Gateway of Grace Ministries will still be there providing for their immediate needs, job search and resume writing, English as a Second Language, transportation to class, childcare, pastoral care, cultural integration, and friendship based on the love of Christ.
The needs are great but so are the opportunities to bring hope and healing to refugee families through the power and provisions of Christ. What a privilege it is to be an instrument of God’s love to people who only days ago thought their lives were hopeless.
Every day, our team gives thanks to God for you and the support you so graciously provide. The work done through our ministry would not be possible without you. As a matter of fact, I founded Gateway of Grace as a church mobilization ministry – a ministry that provides the Church with its God-given opportunity to be a neighbor to refugees. So, thank you for your support, prayers, friendship, and love, especially during this unprecedented time in refugee ministry. You can see Ministry at Work images by clicking here.
As we continue to meet the very real needs of our Afghan families, as well as our other families, there are several ways you can help us serve them. There are various ways you can volunteer, and I’m confident there is one that fits your schedule and giftedness. Check us out at www.gatewayofgrace.org and fill out a volunteer application.
You can also support God’s work through Gateway of Grace by making a generous one-time donation or becoming a monthly donor that helps sustain the ministry during leaners months. In whatever way God leads, you can make your financial donation at our website or at the North Texas Giving Day portal: North Texas Giving Day. This year’s NTGD goal is $50,000. Because of God’s love for refugees demonstrated through your faithfulness, I’m confident we will reach this year’s goal.
May the Lord continue to bless you and keep you.